Tomahawk Nation was founded, largely, on the premise that we’d provide more real insight into FSU football than any other site— and for free. But we also realize that reviewing an entire game, with notes, is difficult for most to digest. So we’re now employing a new approach: breaking down a few plays to show what is — and isn’t — making Florida State football work. Let us know what you think of this new format in the comments section.
One positive to come from the Clemson beatdown was backup QB Alex Hornibrook hooking up with Tamorrion Terry for a long touchdown after a nice catch and run by star receiver.But we’ve seen quite a few misconceptions about this particular play and Kendal Briles’ shot plays in general.
It’s important to discuss this play. Not because of the play itself, but to explain how the Briles offense uses these “shot plays.” Shot plays are generally considered to be pass plays with max protection where one or two receiving options are viable and the remainders are little more than window dressing.
Let’s jump into this example.
Clemson is aligned aggressively, showing what (poor camera angles notwithstanding) presents a single-high, middle-of-field coverage, typically cover-1 man or cover-3 zone. Showing coverage with pretty shallow cushions, they look like they’ll be playing tight coverage and have 5 players on the line of scrimmage.
FSU’s setup is fairly typical of Briles at FSU. 11 personnel with a running back and TE/H-back in the formation, and two receivers to the field side.
Post-snap reveals that Clemson isn’t just aligned aggressively— it’s pressuring with 6, as the nickel corner blitzes. This isn’t cover-1 man, this is a cover-0 man blitz. Old school, but effective.
FSU happens to have the perfect play called for countering this. Briles dials up a max protection shot play. Both running back and TE stay in to block, making this a 7-man pass protection.
Before we get too deep into the play— particularly route combinations/pass concepts, it’s important to note that Briles offers his receivers a significant amount of freedom in shot plays through what the Briles school calls their “deep choice” option routes.
Here’s a great description of this from Noah Riley:
The majority of Briles passing game is through their “deep choice” series in which they are attempting to isolate a tagged receiver to run a vertical option route. Each of these plays are designed to create space for the tagged receiver. The tagged receiver is attempting to attack vertical space by either running a vertical, bender, stop or fade from the slot, or a fade, stop or a post when aligned outside.
Nowhere is this more evident than shot plays where a single receiver is the main target. On the above play, the targeted receiver is Terry. His positioning is what Riley calls “single choice,” an outside single receiver with quite a bit of freedom: “Single Choice: This is normally called when you think you have the single-side receiver 1-on-1 because the safety is not in a position to help. On both Single and Outside Choice, the receiver will try to win vertically by either running a post or go based on leverage from the corner.”
The corner opposite Terry gives 4-5 yards of cushion, then opens his hips to the field side, conceding inside leverage while Terry is still running in a straight line. Big mistake, particularly with no safety help over the top.
Terry quickly recognizes the opening and takes advantage. He turns his route narrowly inside, showing veteran-level football IQ by using his body and keeping the angle shallow enough to shield the corner from getting back in phase. This allows the quarterback tons of space in which to throw. More often you’ll see this type of route adjustment run against cover 2 or cover 4, because as Jimbo Fisher always said (PG version) “bang the damn post against cover 2.”
Often, this would be a slant to throw behind the blitz. But the lack of safety makes what Terry did the ideal decision. Kid has an extremely firm grasp of the offense, recognizing no safety and placing himself in a position to receive the ball quickly but still have a vertical run to green grass.
But Terry is in even better shape here and has virtually the entire field to use, due to the cover-0 man blitz employed by the gaunt, vaunted Brent Venables. The field-side route combination is either curl/flat or go/flat. Briles doesn’t put a large priority on effort during shot plays from non-target options. You can see this from the relative “laziness” of the #2 receiver’s flat route.
More importantly, let’s return to the defensive pre-snap alignment on that field side. Safety in MOF shades to field side, to the point he’s out of frame. Field and nickel corners are both heads up.
The nickel blitz is the tip here. It commits the corner to #2’s flat route and the safety to carry #1. If the safety doesn’t, it’s a bust. In cover 0, he has to have a man, and #1 is passed off to him.
This is the critical point of the play.
Terry is the target, and with the middle of field as vacated as Clemson’s national championships will soon be, it’s the obvious choice. Hornibrook does a good job identifying this quickly and getting the ball out, even if his throw leaves much to be desired.
The important aspect for fans to recognize here is that while the choice route offers considerable freedom, it’s within the framework of those choice routes as illustrated by Riley. Neither Terry nor Hornibrook intended to have to make a man miss. Briles has never designed a whip into a green-area shot play. The choice route tree is a vertical one, especially for Single Choice, which is either post or go.
The key takeaway here from the shot play is that Briles lets his receivers attack vertically during shot plays, which also allows the QB to make easy reads based on the choice routes. This is a microcosm of the Briles philosophy as a whole. Allow your playmakers to find space, and make the quarterback’s job easier with quick decisions.